The Angelic Upstarts Bolingbroke Hall South Shields and The Old 29 Sunderland late 70s gigs

The Angelic Upstarts Bolingbroke Hall South Shields and The Old 29 Sunderland
upstarts1 Writing about the Old 29 the other day made me think about that great punk band the Angelica Upstarts, who I was lucky enough to see quite a few times in the late 70s and early 80s. The Upstarts grew out of the punk movement and hailed from South Shields, a town very much in the heart of the North East of England. The original line-up of the band was Mensi (vocals),Mond (guitar), Steve Forsten (bass) and Decca Wade (drums). Mensi worked as a miner and this was his escape route from the pits. Mond worked in the shipyard as an electrician. They were very much of a working class background, and started to appear at local punk gigs, accompanied by a group of punks and skinheads. They had been influenced by seeing The Clash on the White Riot tour at Newcastle University (a gig which I also attended) and their first gigs were in local venues in South Shields, including Bolingbroke Hall, which if my memory serves me right is a sports and recreation hall a couple of streets behind South Shields town hall. I saw the Upstarts in concert quite a few times in those early days, including gigs at the aforementioned South Shields Bolingbroke Hall and Sunderland Old 29, a gig at Newcastle Guildhall where they supported Stiff Little Fingers on their first visit to the North East, and a gig at Newcastle City Hall where the upstarts were the support act, possibly for Penetration. Their gigs were legendary and they found themselves banned from many venues, including the City Hall, because of the hardcore troublemakers who came along, and their controversial stage act. An Upstarts gig had an atmosphere of its own. The audience would be strongly committed fans, mostly skinheads and punks (more skinheads as time went on) who bought 100% into the Upstarts socialist and anti-establishment philosophy. Their manager, cum bouncer and minder at the time was local hardman and ex-boxing champ Keith Bell, better known as The Sherrif, who could be found at the front or on the side of the stage at their gigs, always ready to jump into the crowd and sort out any fights. Bell went to prison in 1980 for arson, and was sentenced to a further 18 months for threatening to kill Upstarts drummer Decca. And there often were skirmishes and fights at Upstarts gigs; I always lurked around the back; I felt pretty exposed as one of the only people in the hall with long hair :). The Upstarts made it into the charts with a few of their singles,including “I’m an Upstart” and even played “Teenage Warning” on Top of the Pops, which was their highest chart entry at No 29. Their set at the time consisted of those two songs along with “Student Power” (“F***ing Shower” according to the lyrics; I was also a student at the time; another reason to lurk quietly at the back at gigs), “Small Town Small Mind”, “Police Oppression” and the song that was always a highlight, and became their anthem “The Murder of Liddle Towers”. Liddle Towers was a local amateur boxer who died at the hands of police. In his own words: ‘They gave us a bloody good kicking outside the Key Club, but that was naught to what I got when I got inside’. Towers died in hospital in 1976 from injuries received at the hands of the police during the night of January. The inquest decided that it was “justifiable homicide”, a verdict which was widely criticised at the time. The Upstarts song told the story with lyrics “Who killed Liddle? The police killed Liddle”. The track is a great slab of raw punk, and it was amazingly powerful live. At the early gigs Mensi would introduce the song by brining on stage a whole pigs head which he had purchased at the butchers that day. The pigs head would have a policeman’s helmet perched on top of it, and Mensi would hold it above his head at the start of the song before throwing the head into the moshpit of the crowd. The audience would then throw the head about the place, kick it around the floor, and generally go crazy. I have an enduring memory of a skinhead at Bolingbroke Hall biting the ears of the pigs head. Mensi would be screaming and growling the lyrics of the song, wearing the policeman’s hat. Great memories, of a very under-rated and in terms of the North East punk movement, a very influential band. The Upstarts have reformed over the years with various line-ups, with Mensi the one original member (although at one point the band did continue without him). They are currently on a hiatus as their official website explains: “Unfortunately the Angelic Upstarts had to cancel all scheduled gigs for 2012. Since Mensi is single parent again he currently can’t combine parenthood with the band. Expect new live dates in 2013.” I’ve never seen them live since the early 80s, and haven;t felt the need to do so, but writing this makes me linger for one more Upstarts experience. I must remember to keep my eye on their website for any future gigs.

3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by hangar17 on January 7, 2013 at 8:05 am

    Reblogged this on Time for Action.


  2. Posted by TONY KNAGGS on March 29, 2021 at 1:50 pm

    haha – great days – we supported them at both the bolingbroke hall and old 29 gigs (emergency exit) and i recall some splendid times…..steve was our bass player originally and left to join them – the frozen pigs head incident at a gig in the rex hotel (whitley bay) when the upstarts supported the white cats is legendary….. happy times !


    • Posted by vintagerock on March 29, 2021 at 2:51 pm

      Yes Tony Crazy Happy days!! I was at the White Cats gig at the Rex; and I saw the Upstarts that night. I don’t remember anything different about the pig’s head that night. Please tell me more? Peter


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